Pros: Second to none World Heritage area
There are a great many World Heritage Areas on the planet but is any more famous than Australia's Great Barrier Reef? After all it is one of very few that meet all the basic criteria for such a listing and added to that is the fact it is the single largest World Heritage listed area.
There are actually over five hundred and fifty listed areas around the world and the "Great Barrier Reef" encompasses an area of over three hundred and forty seven thousand square kilometres and stretches over an area over two thousand kilometres long. To put that in some perspective the heritage listed area is nearly the size of Texas.
The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area contains much more than just the two thousand eight hundred coral reefs - to limit the protection to the reef itself would be too dangerous. So to aid protection of this unique coral system the protective area includes a large slice of the continental shelf and the areas immediately around the reefs.
Most of the coral reefs are submerged and they spread in width from over two hundred kilometres in the south to less than fifty kilometres in the north. Obviously a reef of this size is a hazard to shipping but of course in turn the greater hazard is from shipping, in particular oil spills. Fortunately with modern navigation and with accurate regularly updated charting of the reef spills are rare and none have to date been catastrophic.
Climate wise the Great Barrier Reef lies in the subtropical to tropical region and consequently is subjected to monsoon rains in summer and strong and dry south westerly winds in winter. There are really only two distinct seasons, a mild dry winter and a hot humid summer each running for about six months. Cyclones, the southern hemisphere version of a tornado are frequent in the summer months especially in the north.
The sea is at it's coolest median of 23C in winter but reaches 28C in mid summer so the water is rarely cold. Tidal and ocean currents play a significant role in maintenance of the coral ensuring the correct mix of nutrients is available to enable the coral to grow and flourish in it's multitudinous colours.
In addition to World Heritage Listing the whole area is a declared Marine Park under Australian Law. That law specifically . prohibits drilling and mining for minerals anywhere in the Park area affording even more protection.
The Barrier Reef is a two thousand kilometre section of the over five thousand kilometre east coast of Australia or more particularly the central coastal section of the State of Queensland. It is readily accessed from a host of towns and cities along the coast but for the overseas visitor the most direct rout is to fly straight to Cairns International Airport.
Cairns is a modern city of about a hundred thousand inhabitants with probably as many tourists at any given time. All the usual "bigger city" conveniences abound and tours of the reef are a daily event. People of many nations frequent Cairns especially those from Asia who have in some respects "done Sydney to death" and have now migrated through the Gold Coast, south of Brisbane and now on to Cairns being the preferred destination for many.
However Sydney still figures prominently particularly for North Americans and Europeans but thanks to an efficient and not too expensive internal airline network it is not at all unreasonable to visit all three in one two week vacation.
Only a small piece of Australia but one worth seeing! This is particularly so if you are a marine buff and all the better if you enjoy being in the water. However, for those that don't like getting their toes wet glass-bottomed boats and other ingenious methods are available for you to gain an appreciation of the undersea area without getting wet.